It’s been raining. You’re cold and wet and lost in the woods. The lean-to is set up to keep the rain off, but you begin to feel the chill settle in your bones. You know you need to build a fire soon or you are in big trouble. How are you going to get a fire going when everything is so wet?
One of the primitive crafts and skills that can be the difference between life and death is a mastery of fire. You should know how to build a fire lay, how to start a fire using an array of modern and primitive means, and how to start and maintain a fire in wet weather.
Once you get a fire going, you can begin to add wet wood. It will dry out and burn. Some woods dry faster than others. One example of a quick drying wood is tulip poplar. But getting the fire started in the first place can be tricky. However, it is not impossible if you know where to look.
If it’s raining and you don’t have much of anywhere to store wood to keep it dry, start collecting bigger pieces first. They won’t be as affected by the additional moisture. You will want to collect enough wood to get a strong fire going before you ignite anything. Look for pieces that still have the bark on them. We’ll get to the best way to prepare them later.
Next, get smaller pieces of wood. Where do you look?
- If you are in an evergreen forest, many of the small, dead lower branches stay fairly dry. Also look for pine cones and dry pine needles. Resinous woods often burn whether or not they are wet, but I’ve always had better luck with it dry.
- If you see a portion of a log hanging in the air, look at the underside and pull off the dry bark or take a knife and shave some pieces of wood off of it.
- Look for rock overhangs and gather leaves, twigs, nut shells or whatever other fire starting materials you can find in the dry area under them.
- Look under trees that are lying on the ground, they often provide a shelter for the debris under them.
The above methods can net you some dry material with minimal work, but there is another way to get dry wood if none of the above options are available.
- Begin with a larger piece of wood, say wrist width in diameter
- Skin the bark off the piece of wood
- Using your knife with a baton or a hatchet, split it into the smallest possible size.
The wood should be dry enough to catch quickly. Before you start your fire, you should have available double the amount of small wood that you would normally need to start a fire in dry weather.
Also make sure you have tinder to get things started. There are a number of commercial tinders, but one of the best around is called PJ Cotton. Just take some cotton balls and saturate them with petroleum jelly. They catch as spark and burn for several minutes allowing you to get your fire going. You can also use natural tinders such as birch, juniper or cedar bark.
With the larger pieces of wood, peel the bark off of them before adding them to the fire. If you don’t have a dry place to put them, don’t peel the bark until the last minute.
Knowing where to look for and how to use what is there can save your life when you need to build a fire in wet woods.
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